Smartphone war heats up: AT&T sues, Verizon launches stealth fighters

Last week, we discussed how Verizon Wireless is consciously trying to associate its forthcoming Droid smartphone series with a more macho identity than Apple's iPhone, long-linked to the "geek chic" aesthetic. In its new ad, "Stealth," Verizon continues in this direction with a militaristic spot that depicts an air-wing of Stealth fighters launching Droid-containing missiles into the American landscape to the bewilderment of locals.

But the real combat is taking place off the air, where AT&T has filed a lawsuit against Verizon Wireless charging that Big Red's "There's a Map for That" campaign -- which highlights AT&T's spotty 3G coverage -- is "misleading." The air and legal warfare illustrate the competitive ferocity of the mobile phone market heading into the holidays.
In AT&T's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia (where its wireless headquarters is located), the company takes issue with Verizon Wireless's "There's a Map for That" commercials, which mock Apple's own "There's an App for That," spots. The Verizon ads seek to show that Verizon's coverage area is more extensive than AT&T's.

But AT&T says the maps in the ads are misleading because they display huge spots of blank space in AT&T's coverage area, which are designed to show a lack of 3G service, but instead imply -- falsely -- lack of any service at all.

"By communicating that AT&T customers have no coverage in large parts of the country, Verizon is misleading the public about an essential component of the services AT&T offers," the lawsuit said.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon and UK telcom giants Vodaphone, dismissed the lawsuit as without merit. "Our ads clearly explain that non-3G coverage is available elsewhere," said Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace.

He went on to diss AT&T's own ads.

"We believe this action by them calls into question the validity of their own claim of fastest 3G network," Gerace said in a statement. "They are misleading customers by inferring that the fastest 3G network is much bigger than the blue" area on the map.

Droid Aims Its Missiles at the Macho Market

According to AT&T, Verizon is playing dirty as a means of mounting an attack on Apple's iPhone -- heretofore available exclusively on AT&T. "Verizon knows we're the leader in smart phones," AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told The Wall Street Journal. "This whole campaign is a response to that."

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, has launched the latest installment of its "Droid Does" campaign -- Stealth -- designed to introduce its new Droid cell phone line, which is powered by Android, Google's open-source mobile operating system. The campaign seeks to identify the Droid with an edgier, more macho version of male identity than the iPhone, which has been associated with happy-hipster pop and thousands of neat applications.

Droid's impending launch has been a subject of much anticipation in the mobile space, with many analysts suggesting it could be the first truly legitimate competitor to Apple's smartphone hegemony.

The Droid "Stealth" spot amps up the machismo, showing Stealth fighter planes firing large projectiles into the earth -- projectiles which open to reveal the company's forthcoming cell phone.

Well, the ad agencies have gotten paid. Now it's time to pay the lawyers.

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